Apple Watch

How to Choose a Heart Rate Monitor

Monitoring your heart rate during a workout can provide you with a plethora of data relating to your performance and overall level of fitness, which can be tremendously valuable to people interested in tracking their progress in developing cardiovascular fitness over time. However, not every heart rate monitor is the same, and different models offer different levels of performance. Additionally, each brand of heart rate monitor offers a unique set of features, and while many products connect via Bluetooth to a smartphone, not every heart rate monitor is compatible with every fitness app. As such, this article will examine some of the top-selling heart rate monitors on the market to help you decide which is right for your individual needs.

In general, heart rate monitors come in two forms; either they strap to your chest, or your wrist. Chest strap heart monitors boast superior accuracy, particularly when one’s heart rate is especially high during an intense workout, whereas heart rate monitors used on the wrist generally offer smartwatch features as well, including sleep tracking, notifications from your phone, and automatic detection of exercise.

If you want the most accurate, highest-quality heart rate data during workouts, the Polar H7 Transmitter and Strap is likely your best choice. This device provides data with a level of accuracy similar to an ECG, which is widely considered the gold standard in heart rate measuring technology. The device takes advantage of low energy Bluetooth to transmit data to your smartphone while preserving battery life, and works with the Polar Beat app which lets you check your heart rate in real time. Additionally, the Polar H7 costs around sixty dollars, which is cheaper than most other wrist-based solutions, though the device of course does not offer smartwatch-like features of any sort. However, if your only concern is collecting highly accurate data about your heart rate while exercising, the Polar H7 is likely your best bet. Another option is the Scosche Rhythm24, which attaches to one’s forearm, which may be a more comfortable configuration for some.

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Most smartwatches that are sold today include fitness tracking features, including a wrist-based heart rate monitor. These products use small LEDS positioned on the underside of the watch to measure minor variations in skin color, which correspond with one’s heart rate. Though this technology is fairly accurate for measuring one’s heart rate while at rest, they tend to produce less desirable results as one’s heart rate becomes elevated. Additionally, not every wrist-based heart rate monitor measures with the same degree of accuracy, as recent research shows that results can vary dramatically between products. However, as they are generally integrated with smartwatch features, for most people, particularly those who take a more casual approach to their fitness, the trade-off can be worth it.

The most accurate wrist monitor tested in the previously-mentioned study is the Apple Watch, which was found to vary from the chest-based solution by just 1.5 beats per minute, a degree of accuracy which should be fine for most people. While not primarily a fitness-focused device, the Apple Watch offers an impressive array of health features, even including the ability to conduct an ECG and check for potentially serious heart conditions. While the Apple Watch is perhaps the most elegant and sophisticated smartwatch on the market, the product has some major drawbacks. For one, it’s only compatible with iPhones, so if you have an Android smartphone, you’re out of luck. Additionally, the Apple Watch is one of the most expensive smartwatches on the market, as the newest model starts at a base price of $399.

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Luckily for Android users, plenty of alternatives to the Apple Watch exist, many of which can be purchased for a dramatically-lower price. The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2, for instance, costs $100 less, and offers a very similar set of features, including the ability to conduct an ECG and can even measure users’ blood pressure. In terms of its ability to measure heart rate, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 includes an upgraded heart rate monitor compared to its predecessor, and should provide most people with reasonably accurate results. 

Of course, these are but a few of all available heart rate monitoring solutions. As such, when you’re deciding on which device to buy, you should take your individual needs and preferences into consideration and do some independent research. Heart rate monitors can be great tools for monitoring your fitness over time, and as an added bonus many include other useful health features as well.